16 December 2013

Special Offerings

Hello, people who may-or-may not be still following this blog! For those of you I don't see regularly, here's an update:

I accepted a new position with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) soon after returning to Louisville ("officially") in October, as the Assistant for Special Offerings and Appeals. Since then, I've been getting reacquainted with my city and my former / current coworkers, keeping busy setting up my new apartment and picking up a extra few hours in holiday-season retail to supplement my travel habits ;-) That, combined with the fact that I still haven't set up internet in my apartment yet, means I have been a little silent on the social media front. My apologies for those who got used to seeing everything I was up to on a daily basis!

The position in Special Offerings is important to me - mostly because the work that we do allows many others in the denomination to do their work. Including the Young Adult Volunteer program. One new addition to our offerings for 2013 is the Presbyterian Giving Catalog. It's no surprise what my favorite items in the catalog are featured on page 13 (and reproduced for you, below): supplements for Young Adult Volunteers like bus passes and groceries.

As a recipient of these funds in the past, I can tell you from experience how nice it is to jump on the bus to work, rather than walking 2 miles in the cold Belfast rain. I encourage everyone to check it out, especially those who have not yet completed their Christmas shopping, or those who prefer to give gifts that make a difference on a larger scale! Visit presbyteriangifts.org for more!

16 October 2013

Greetings from Nashville!

Courtney, Kathryn and I have made our way to the deep south of Nashville, TN for the last few weeks of our YAVIT! tour. So far we've been able to see quite a bit of the city - from honky tonks on SoBro to a night at the Opera! We've had quite the tour guide in (Belfast YAV-turned-Nashville YAV) T.J.

He also gave us a tour of his current placement, Room in the Inn. It was really impactful to see his relationships to the participants at his site. Many former Nashville YAVs have even stayed on as employees. 

Don't worry, it hasn't been all fun and games - we've done some outreach, too. ;-) Last night we met the campus ministry at Vandy that I think deserves its own post... so keep an eye out for that!

We've just got one more night here in our "Cave" - the youth room at Westminster Pres that has been our home for the past week - before we head to Cookeville for the Middle Tennessee Presbytery meeting tomorrow. I can't believe our tour is almost complete!

28 September 2013

YAVITs on Tour!

Courtney, Kathryn and I are in Colorado!

Airport stylin'!

It's really beautiful here, our hosts have gone over-the-top to make us feel welcome, and the Presbytery folks we've met so far couldn't be nicer. We have a few days up front to work a little more on our message and do some sightseeing, but we'll be polishing up our presentations in front of a (hopefully understanding) public audience soon.

Some of our engagements are for specific groups or require RSVP, but if you live in the Denver / Boulder area, here are a few places you can stop by and say hi to me in the next few weeks!

Sunday, 29 September (Boulder, CO)
10:30 am - St. Andrew Presbyterian Church

Friday, 4 October (Denver, CO)
9 pm - Salsa dancing at Blue Ice

Sunday, 6 October (Denver)
10:30 am - Central Presbyterian Church

Hope to see you soon!

27 September 2013


So apparently I'm not a YAV anymore.

Now that we've successfully survived the altitude at Ghost Ranch, the men and women with whom I've served for the last year are officially YAV-A... Young Adult Volunteer Alumni!

We graduated!
(OK, so maybe the caps are photoshopped...)
Please enjoy a few scenes from our retreat last weekend, where we came together to remember our year of service and work through the issues that come with reverse culture shock!

17 September 2013

An update - and a new adventure!

Well, the time of sitting around waiting for the "next steps" is over - tomorrow, I will finally fly to Abiquiu, NM for the YAV transition retreat and reunite with the whole gang I haven't seen since last August (minus a few who will be sorely missed)! I am really, really excited.

After a week in New Mexico, I will head to Denver and Nashville for a few weeks to share my story with local churches and presbyteries. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to spend time in each of these cities - so if you're in the area, drop me a line! I'll do my best to update here during my time on the road.

In other news:

I was interviewed! Read it here:
Following God's call as a Young Adult Volunteer: Young adults find their voice and their place in the church

What I'm listening to:
I love this song. A friend posted this today on facebook, and even though I hadn't heard it since leaving Belfast, I've probably listened to it at least 10 times today while getting ready for the next stage of my journey. Enjoy!

Lyrics below:

31 August 2013

Quest Physics

Several years ago, I read the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I imagine most of the people who are reading this have maybe at least heard of it...

Not long before deciding to begin the process of applying for a YAV year, I finally rented the movie version on Netflix. At the time, I wrote down a quote from the movie and kind of forgot about it - until this evening, when I caught the movie again on TV. It felt a little like coming full circle:

In the end, I've come to believe in something I call "The Physics of the Quest." A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.


19 August 2013

525,600 minutes

Exactly one year ago, I was sitting in my bedroom in Louisville, surrounded by luggage and... stuff. Trying to figure out exactly what I'd need for one year in a country I'd never visited, doing a job I couldn't even imagine (and then making sure that each bag weighed exactly no more than 50 lbs). The next morning, I would leave for orientation and then a year away from home.

(Otherwise known as that time Anna and I met for the first time IRL, and Instagrammed it for posterity)

I look about as tired as you'd imagine after staying up all night to pack!

Today, I sit in the bedroom of my childhood home, surrounded by luggage and ... stuff. Tomorrow I will finally be home home: My Old Kentucky Home. One year to the day from when I left. I'm pretty psyched. 

I will probably be wearing this shirt tomorrow, fair warning. 

Just thinking of all the experiences I've had and the people I've met in these past 12 months make me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I am really glad I get to see my NI crew at re-entry in a few weeks, because I'm already going through DTs after just a few weeks apart. At the same time I'm prepping for home, all of next year's YAV's are getting off the plane in New Jersey for a week of orientation. I have such excitement and hope for them as they begin this journey, and I ask that you keep them in your thoughts this week as they are hit with more information than I've even been able to process this entire year.

I've not met the newest crop of YAVs, but a few of their blogs are already posted on the PC(USA) site. Feel free to check out the new NI crew (Sarah P. will be at my former placement sites next year):


07 August 2013


Today I leave Belfast. It is an incredibly bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I am SO excited to see my family and friends back home, but on the other... Belfast feels like home to me now.

In honor of my final day in Belfast, I will let you viewers at home read the "sermon" I gave on my final week at Fortwilliam and Macrory (further proof that the way I write and the way I speak is not actually too dissimilar):


A few weeks ago, Lesley asked me if I would be willing to give the message this morning. No pressure, I was free to speak for as much or little of the service as I'd like. Not one to back down from things that scare me, I agreed and began immediately... to procrastinate.

So this week began, and I still had no idea what I would say to you, the people who have become my family away from home for a year. Most of what I'd be inclined to say to you was already covered in my newsletter piece (I shouldn't have given it all up in one go!), so I was back at square one.

...So I did what I imagine most people do when they have to give the message on Sunday - I began with the lectionary. For those who aren't aware, there is a list of Bible passages each day - you can find the list anywhere online - that are used as a sort of guideline for churches around the world. So I settled in with my YAV worship CD in the background and began to read: first up, Psalms 103 and 150. As the "Morning Psalms", these are typically very praise-the-Lordy. So I made a mental note and moved on to the "First Reading" - 1 Samuel. Picking up just after David beat Goliath. I imagine that I could have made this into something interesting, but probably not appropriate for a fond farewell... on to "Second Reading" - Romans 10:4-17. Sent by the Lord to share his love with others. Check. As you can tell (since we just read this one), I liked this one best of my options thus far and set it aside for the service. Now to find a second reading. The Gospel reading was all about shaming those Pharisees, and the Evening Psalm was another praise-the-Lord standard. I thought that was it and got ready to scroll back up through the Psalms to pick my favorite. At that moment, two things happened that seemed like a pretty clear message - the song changed, and my finger slipped.

So what does this mean? Well, my finger slipped onto the down arrow - and I realized that there was one more option available to me in this long lectionary list... and the song changed to a worship hymn we sing often at YAV events. Both were Psalm 139.

Sometimes, things just fall into place. In those rare moments of perfect timing, I know that God's hand is at work. Moving to Louisville after college was just a little too easy. Choosing the YAV program was easy when everything fell into place. This Psalm, especially verses 7-10, have been particularly important to me this year. I'll read it for you in the version I've learned by heart:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
I was first introduced to this passage at our placement event - the weekend that changed my life by confirming that I would be spending this year with you here in Belfast. The 3,746 miles between my house and Skegoneill Drive (as the crow flies) felt insurmountable. The "far side of the sea" in this case felt particularly far away. But the song served as a reminder that I wouldn't be alone. God's hand would guide me, even in Belfast.

After some time here, I realized something about myself - as much as I hated to admit it, part of my decision to join this program was selfish - I had a lot of baggage that I thought I could leave behind in Louisville, and getting away for a year felt like a good way to forget some of that. Singing this song on a retreat with other YAVs reminded me that there is no where I could flee from God's presence.

Each time I come across this passage or this song, it holds a different meaning for me. Following the passage along farther, we praise God for making us just as we are: fearfully and wonderfully. We implore God to search us, to know us and learn our secrets. Dark is made light in his presence. We are reminded that there is no escape from God. We may try and run, or hide the bits we're ashamed of, but He is here. He loves us still, and encourages us to be better.

... So I heard this call and moved to Belfast. Does this mean that's the only way that you can fill God's call? Packing up your life and moving somewhere drastic? Of course not. Romans 10:8 reminds us that "the message is as near as your mouth or your heart." We carry God's love with us, and it is our charge to share that message with those who haven't heard it, or may have forgotten. You can show this love in simple ways - calling in to check on a friend who is having a hard time. Suspending judgement on someone before you get to know their lives and their circumstances. You don't have to travel half a world away to do it.

In fact, many of you have done this with me this year. I'm so grateful for those with whom I've had the opportunity to share a meal or conversation. I may be biased, but I feel that taking the time to get to know "the YAV" as a person rather than just a function makes the year that much richer for both parties!

You have so many exciting things coming up in this coming year - I've had the opportunity to spend time with Becki, and I'm insanely jealous that Sarah will get to spend more time with her. The outreach projects of this congregation are beginning to gather momentum, and you have the possibility to really impact people's lives. I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to walk along with you, if only for this short time. It is going to be really difficult to leave you all!

I close now with another YAV standard-issue prayer that has meant a lot throughout this year, and even more so as I leave this place with no idea of where my next steps will take me:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

06 August 2013

What I'm listening to: Hopeless Wanderer

I share this today:

  1. Because I like this song
  2. I feel a bit like a hopeless wanderer, recently... but mostly
  3. This music video is hilarious

(The real band vs. the fake band)

Lyrics below:

05 August 2013


I have returned from my travels with just a day left in Belfast to re-pack the treasures and memories from this trip before heading home.

I have met lovely people and seen beautiful things over the past 3 weeks of travel. I have taken over 2400 photographs that now need culling and sorting, only about 150 of which are #awkwardselfies. I've had time to process some of the emotions associated with leaving Belfast and returning to the States, a process which I'm sure will continue for some time to come.

I will continue to write here occasionally: I still have half-formed ideas that I'd like to think-through in writing, and my time as a YAV is not quite over. This fall I will travel as a part of the YAV Itineration Team (otherwise known as YAVIT!), spreading the word about this program to Presbyteries, schools and churches around the country.

I'd still love your prayers and support as I begin this next phase. Returning home when so much has changed (for both myself and the people I love back home) is intimidating. I will step off that plane on Wednesday with no job, no car and no real home: many things associated with comfort and success in our society. Of course I trust that the Lord and my amazing community will help me through, but knowing those of you who have been my prayer warriors still have my back is a great comfort. If I've learned anything this year, it is that I have the most amazing support network on the planet!

Until next time, my friends!

19 July 2013

On Holiday (celebrate!)

I mentioned earlier this year that I will be traveling at the end of my YAV year. I forgot to put up this message before I left, so greetings from Istanbul!

Full-on blogging is tough from an iPod, but I'm posting photo updates each day (when I have Internet) on Instagram (@pdcentre) and Facebook. I'm also trying to cross-post on twitter (also @pdcentre) for those that don't have one or the other.

I've included the hashtags #TriciAdventure and #awkwardselfie in most, if that gives you an idea of what you'll see there. What started as physical proof to my family that I made it on the next leg of my journey has become a bizarre trend of awkward self-taken photos of yours truly. Obviously the real ones will come later. With stories, etc.

Back to the states on 7 August - check ya on the flippy-floppy!

09 July 2013

A difficult goodbye

I've mentioned before that part of my responsibilities at Fortwilliam and Macrory include the monthly FortMac newsletter. Last month, my final issue, it was my turn to write the opinion piece. I used that opportunity to write a letter of thanks to the congregation, which I share with you now below (edited slightly to remove last names).


I don’t know how many times I've sat down to write this piece. A dozen? But each time I find that I can’t quite find the words to say. What wisdom can I impart that I haven’t first learned from each of you? 

It’s a little strange, saying goodbye a month before I actually go—but I suppose I’ll welcome this opportunity, so that you can have the next few weeks to tell me I’m full of it for what I’m about to say. I've learned so much here. I came to Belfast to be challenged, to experience something different from my life in Louisville, and then was surprised when it happened—there were times that I was definitely challenged!

I suppose the first thing I learned was to relax. As many of you may have discovered over this year, I have a tendency to obsess over details… but guess what? I’m not perfect! This year your kindness has given me the room to try new things, and the grace to brush myself off when I inevitably fall on my face.

Silly boys at BB
Another thing I learned was to listen. I've come to Belfast to learn about Northern Ireland, about the lives that you lead and the things that affect your reality. In many ways, the struggles are the same here as at home, but being in a different environment has allowed me to see things with a different perspective.

Will I ever understand everything that it means to be from Belfast? Of course not. But I've had a great opportunity this year to listen to your experiences, and I thank all those who have invited me in to their lives: particularly to Ann and Roy for introducing me to the North Coast; Sylvia and Roy, Pat / Michele / Siobhan's clan, Daphne and Billy for sharing meals with me; the Young Adult Group for some good craic each month; Stewart, Norma and Pamela for looking out for me at the Boys’ Brigade (and for numerous lifts to Macrory Halls!); the staff team and volunteers that welcomed me as one of their own; and my faithful Bible study group that has been particularly special during my year here: Ann, Heather, Helene, Muriel and Veronica.

Part of the family for Christmas
I have learned something from each and every one of you… and even if your name was not mentioned, please know that I have truly appreciated being a part of your congregational life this year.

I leave Belfast in a few short weeks (has it really gone so quickly?!?) and with me I take a fondness for Tunnocks Tea Cakes, a vastly expanded vocabulary, and numerous photographs and reminders of my time here. More importantly, however, I take a personal strength I never knew before.

Our last week of Bible study
Coming here, away from family and friends, has been difficult, but it has also given me the self-confidence to stand up for myself and to know that I’m capable of mastering whatever life throws my way. I still don’t know where the next stage will take me, but I go forward from this place, secure in the fact that I will have this community keeping me in their hearts and prayers from the other side of the ocean.

I leave you for now with the words of a prayer that is shared with each YAV as they prepare for their year of service. I find that it is still as applicable for me today as it was over a year ago, when I learned I would be spending this time with you. You might consider cutting it out with the picture and bio of Sarah to keep her in your prayers as she prepares for her time in Northern Ireland!

With all my love,


I have no idea where I am going. 

I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so. 

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, 
though I may know nothing about it. 

Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude” 
© Abbey of Gethsemani 

07 July 2013

One Week

Next Sunday is my last in Belfast.

(so strange to type that!)

This week and the next have been / will be full of packing, spending time with friends and trying to visit all the places I've put off til the end. Oh, yeah - and the 12th of July is in there somewhere. That's a whole other post...

FMPCI team at dinner
Even though my room is slowly emptying, it still hasn't sunk in that my time here is coming to an end. I'm not sure when it will feel real - my final service at Fortwilliam and Macrory? Saying goodbye to my fellow YAVs before I head on holiday? Getting on the plane to America? Three months from now in the middle of the night?

Making progress...
So I guess in addition to general "what's happening-ness", part of this post is a sort of apology... if I've had to say goodbye to you already and it didn't quite have the weight of "I might never see you again" attached - it's because it isn't quite real to me yet. I will definitely miss everyone here!

Vine - volunteer appreciation lunch

30 June 2013

Reflections from Scotland

We returned from our final YAV retreat earlier this week, and after some consideration I don't think I can do it justice with one of my typical rundown posts. In short, I LOVED Scotland... which surprised me for some reason. We spent time as a group in Edinburgh and Iona, then the boys and I spent some extra time in Glasgow. Each city had its own flavor and special moments, so I will just pull a few excerpts from my private journal:

On a train, click-clickity-clacking through the Scottish countryside. I love it here.... I have this intense desire to never leave this place. 

Kathryn and I at the Storytelling Centre
We spent the past two days in Edinburgh. I never really left the touristy areas, but loved the city all the same.  ... The city itself seems to have pride in storytelling. Kathryn, TJ, David and I went on a ghost tour last night, after a day that involved hiking Arthur's Seat, learning about a social enterprise for homeless people in the Grassmarket, lunch at the place where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, ... and an afternoon exploring Edinburgh Castle.

Even with my camera there's no way I could adequately capture fields of wildflowers against a soft blue sky. Grass so green. Do these colours even exist back home?

(OK, you caught me: this photo isn't from Scotland)
(after a service loosely based on Ecclesiastes 3)
We went to the evening service at the Abbey, and as a part of the prayer the officiant read out the familiar "a time for..." and we were meant to add our wordless prayers. So when she said something, I tried my best to feel it - as a way to see what I associate with that emotion ... A time for gratitude: C.'s smile. 

I sit now on a ferry, watching Mull slip into the distance as we return to the mainland. Iona was like a dream.

We took a trip today through the Scottish Highlands to Glen Coe and Loch Ness. The thought of following in the footsteps of my ancestors on this trip (first Iona, now this place) is so strange, but incredibly powerful.

Photo credit: David Mills
As we entered the bus terminal, we saw a chilling sight: groups of well-dressed men and women with signs and brochures proclaiming the gospel - ignoring the shivering, barefoot man sitting just feet away. How often do I do the same - literally, or figuratively? 

To see the rest of my Scotland photos (warning: there are several!), click here.

Stories from Silence

Earlier this week, David invited me to come along with him for a work thing. Since this was the first time I've been able to accept an invitation on a Thursday evening, and there was the promise of free food (YAV life!), I accepted the vague invitation and hopped in the WAVE minibus with no idea what to expect.

It turns out, the event was the launching of a website, Stories from Silence, that is the culmination of a storytelling project documenting those injured or bereaved as a result of "the Troubles" here in Northern Ireland. The theme of the evening was stories by those who had lost children during the conflict. While David's placement allows him to have frequent interaction with these topics, this was the first time I'd heard stories like this discussed openly. The culture here in many ways encourages those who have had a difficult time to keep it to themselves, part of what leads to such high rates of suicide and depression. Luckily, places like the WAVE Trauma Centre are here to encourage people to tell their stories and talk about their feelings.

I had the powerful experience of sitting next to a man called Michael as his story was played for the crowd. Although the Troubles are officially over, it is important to remember that the pain is still incredibly real for the people who lost their loved ones during this time. I encourage you to visit http://storiesfromsilence.com and listen to a few of them for a better idea of what many people we know here in Belfast have been through.

The event also featured popular folk singer Tommy Sands as he used his method of music and storytelling for healing. He was kind enough to speak to David and I at length after the event. I couldn't find any of the songs he sang on YouTube, but here is a little taste of his music:

15 June 2013

What I'm Listening To: Father's Day Edition

Daddy's Girl

Father / daughter songs. There are a lot of them - and some do it better than others (I'm looking at you, Frank and Nancy - that's weird). Today's song is very special to me, as I listen to it (usually on repeat) whenever I'm missing my daddy. I thought it would be appropriate for a special Father's Day edition of "What I'm Listening To"... so this one goes out to mine.

Although this version might be more appropriate for my dad... Dougie. (See 3:54 - that's totally my Dougie-Fresh dad)

Derby Daddy-O
(Lyrics below)

06 June 2013

Ch- ch- changes

Sorry for the long silence - recently it's been that every time I sit down to write, I pull a giant blank. So I've decided to just write through all the weirdness and fill you in on a bit of YAV life to date...

The weather in Belfast has been uncharacteristically gorgeous, so we've all been in a super, sunshine-induced happiness which is awesome after months of cold, grey rain. Hanging just on the periphery, however is the knowledge that our time here is coming to an end. This is bittersweet: on one hand we're all excited to see family and friends, but on the other we're sad to see this year end. I've become so close to this group, the idea of being scattered across the country next year is really hard. We've been taking every opportunity to spend time together, take day trips to places we haven't been yet and soak up everything we can before we go.

Day trip to Derry / Londonderry
Things are wrapping up at work as well. Last week was my final Bible Study and prayer group, today is my last homework club. Mums and Tots and JAFFA end next week. While I'll have other tasks to fill the time, I've often said that this year has been about building relationships, and many of these will come to an end when I'm not at the Vine each week.

Dinner with my Bible Study group
As I prepare to go, people keep asking what I'll do when I get home. The truth is, I have no real clue. At orientation, they warned us that re-entry would be difficult. So I've effectively had a year to worry about fitting back into "my life" when I return. To be fair, I've not been too concerned about it for most of my time here, but as the date of my return flight inches closer, the worry begins to mount.

So now I see the changes that have gone on back home while I've been gone - new relationships, marriages, babies, jobs, houses... and I'm afraid that the "home" I'm sick for doesn't exist anymore. Self-reflection is hard - and while I've not seen myself change, I've been told by others that they've seen a change in me. It's weird to think you don't even know yourself anymore.

So yes, there are lots of thoughts floating around in my head, and I'm not really always sure how to feel about them, much less express them. So for now, please just be patient with me while I try to figure it out!

Greetings from sunny Belfast!

21 May 2013

And now for the answer portion of our evening...

Awhile back I opened myself up for another question-and-answer session, and I've finally gotten around to compiling and answering a few of your popular questions:

How is Ireland? Shamrock. Leprechaun. Guinness. 
OK, I'm a little surprised to still be getting questions like this. Belfast is in Northern Ireland, which is a different country from the Republic of Ireland (for those who are more recent followers of my blog, I will direct you here for a more in-depth explanation).

Asking someone in Northern Ireland about living in Ireland is like asking a Canadian how they like being from the States. Same land mass, different countries. There is still significant Irish culture here - street signs in Nationalist neighborhoods are written in both English and Irish, and you'll likely see Irish tricolour flags flying in these areas... but since I work for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my placements are in largely Unionist areas. In that case, the question might be more appropriate as, "How is Northern Ireland? Union Flag. Cuppa Tea. Bonfires..."

After all that, the answer, of course, would be that it's great craic (translate). I'm really enjoying the opportunity to be here, to spend time with the people I've met here, and to take weekend trips to places like the Giant's Causeway or Blarney castle.

Have you picked up any local habits or sayings?
Things I've caught myself saying (in total seriousness), and was completely surprised to hear come out of my mouth:
  • I haven't a baldy (or a baldy notion). - I have no idea.
  • Ach, she's a wee dote. Give us a nurse. - Your baby is adorable. Let me hold her.
  • He completely does my head in, he's mustard. - He drives me crazy, he's stubborn.
  • Dead on - all right
  • He's always taking the mick out of her - He is playfully making fun of her.
  • I haven't seen him in donkeys - it has been a long time.
I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I can think of for now. 

When are you coming home?
Well, it depends on what you consider "home"... I'll fly into the States on 7th August, and spend a few weeks at my childhood home in Orlando. I will then head back to my adopted home of Louisville - timeline is still TBD, but I'd like to be in O-town for my baby brother's birthday on 18th August and in Cincinnati for my niece's on 23rd August... so that's the general idea.

What will you do when you get home?
Yes, I am looking for jobs. Not-so-officially, since I'm still about 3 months away from being back in Louisville, but more like considering what the next year has in store. I may head back to the corporate realm as an administrative assistant (which I've done for the past 12 years), head back to school, or embark on some other adventure that is a combination of the above. Time will tell.

19 May 2013

Guest post: Richard Higginson

Each month in our church newsletter, we invite the congregation, staff or community members to write an opinion piece. This month's piece was written by my coworker, Richard, who talked to members of Tiger's Bay (where we do much of our outreach) about their opinions of cultural displays in their community. I thought it would be an interesting perspective to include here - so I got his permission to repost for your reading pleasure!

I Hear Voices
Richard Higginson

Voices over the proposed peace wall amendments at Duncairn:
How would you like it if you looked out of your window everyday through a 30ft height barred fence - do people want to keep living in prisons?

There'll be no walls coming down here. No one's come and talked to us for starters. If you lived up against the interface, would you feel safe when / if it was removed? Of course you wouldn't. They'll be stoning your windees and petrol bombing you just like before. Nothing has changed. This community will not be ready for another 30 or 40 years.

Voices over "shared space" 
Shared Space is totally one-sided. Why is it always us that has to share? Where isn't there shared space in Republican areas like the New Lodge? Enough is enough. We're not giving up any more ground. Shared space is nothing more than a Nationalist/Republican strategy to take over our land.

Shared space must be totally neutral - cultural symbols, flags, or traditions must not be practiced in such a place.

Voices over kerbstone painting and bonfire
Look at what they done! It’s all around the community centre and the doctor’s surgery too. There's catholics goes there you know. What are they going to think now?

They say they want more housing. How are they going to get more housing when they've made the place look like a dump! 


Maybe we're sick and tired of hearing these voices? Maybe we're hearing them for the first time? Maybe I'm reflecting your voice in these reflections? Hearing voices thrusts us into the chaos and complexity around the issues held dear by the people around us. If we dare to ask the questions, and if we care to listen, we might regret it when we experience the discharge of raw, pent-up emotion. Nevertheless, when we open up channels of communication in this way, we help each other to become conscious of their own opinion, and often our own opinion becomes clear. This is the first step. The next is to not only become conscious of what others think, but to receive it - like a gift, however unwelcome it may feel. That’s not easy to do.

When we begin to receive a number of different opinions as well as our own, our tendency to rush to solutions becomes halted by an appreciation of complexity. For example: How can communities like Tigers Bay generate a demand for housing when its appearance can be viewed as uninviting, hostile or intimidating? How can the celebration of national/cultural identity or remembrance of the past in N.Ireland be accepted without perceived threat or triumphalism? What degree of community safety and confidence is required to broker breaches in peace walls? Or are these things ever elusive for traumatised societies like Inner North Belfast?

So why bother in the first place?

Maybe we feel a sense of obligation? - that's what Christians ought to do. Maybe we can't get away from it despite want of trying? But maybe it’s because the Son is rising in our hearts? - the Creator and Sustainer of all things, (Col 1:16-17) the One who has reconciled all things to himself, (Col 1:20) destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14). The One who has become our Peace, and the One who entrusts us with the ministry of peace through the power of the Son (Matt 5:9, 2Cor 5:18-21). If this is our chosen reality, by faith, then there is great hope in the midst of hopelessness. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed, and so he became the father of many nations... (Rom 4:18) Because the love of God has the final word, no one is a write off! Everyone is included in the journey of learning to see ourselves and each other as God the Father sees us. May the eternal life that God has given us in the unity of the Son be unveiled to us as we turn our hearts towards His face.

Richard Higginson has been the Bricks to Bridges Project Development Worker at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church since January 2011. He works as a self-employed Community Relations Consultant following the completion of a Masters degree in Conflict Transformation through the Centre for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, USA.

Richard currently lives in North Belfast with his wife and two children.


Today is Pentecost. The story that any of us who grew up in the church will likely associate with those photos of cartoons with fire above their heads, or crafts involving glue sticks and plenty of tissue paper (or popsicle sticks, as all the best are).

Over the years, I've been to plenty of different Pentecost services - some done really well, some less so. My favorite, of course, will have to be the Sweaty Sheep service that included water balloon fights, liturgical dancers and communion using breads and foods from all over the world.

Photo by Michael Whitman
Today, Fortwilliam and Macrory had a guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. John Dunlop. His message addressed waiting: how none of us like to wait, but when the thing that we are waiting on is the Spirit of God, we can't move forward without it. He focused on the diversity of the crowd gathered that morning, waiting together, gathering in God's name. All of those different gifts, opinions and personalities in one place. Each person gathered in that room was unique, but they all had names. They were all touched by the Spirit.

This message reminded me of the YAV program, which is appropriate since much of the funding for this program comes from the Pentecost Offering. We are young, we are exuberant, and we are sent out in the name of God despite our differing gifts, opinions and personalities to join in the celebration of the global church.

Pentecost is being celebrated today across the world in a vast array of cultures and languages, and my fellow YAVs are there: in Guatemala, in Kenya, in Tucson, in New Orleans and so many other communities. Learning, sharing and growing with others because of our shared purpose.

In the spirit of this global sending, I ask a favor: if the Pentecost Offering is not taken in your church, click the link above or text "young" to 20222 to give $10 to the PC(USA). To fund this program more directly, there are still a few NI YAVs who need a little help with their fundraising requirements. Please consider a donation in honor of Pentecost to Kathryn, who is doing great work this year at the East Belfast Mission.

For those interested in learning more about the YAV program, please visit http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/yav/.

16 May 2013

Welcome to Thirty.

It's official. I've been "in my thirties" for a week now, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who made it so special!

Although my birthday was on Thursday, I felt very lucky to be celebrated all week by the people I've held nearest and dearest in my time here. Kicking off the week on Monday with a red velvet cake Veronica baked for our Bible Study was certainly a great start! Everyone was so kind and generous.

I got to spend the actual day at the Vine - lunch club with the pensioners and homework club with the wee ones - an hilarious balance of those who consider 30 to be very young with those who consider 30 to be very old!

After work, my friend David and I rushed to the bus station for our 5.5-hour trip to Cork. We spent the next two days exploring the city and incredible grounds at Blarney Castle - yes, I kissed the stone!

We made it back to Belfast for work on Sunday, but my special birthday treats were not yet over! Last year, when my friend Bill learned I would be spending the year in the British Isles, he told me about Scottish singer Julie Fowlis - who some might recognize from the soundtrack for the Disney movie Brave. So when I heard that she would be performing in Belfast, I was sold! What a great show - it was held in a tent with little twinkle lights dancing in the breeze, and the whole thing was just a bit magical. Here's the end of their set: 

and the song from the movie (the only song that wasn't sung in Scottish Gaelic):

While my life has now more or less returned to business as usual after 2 weeks mentally dedicated to Derby and birthday, in the end even though hitting 30 was a scary milestone... it's not so bad on the other side!